Wednesday, 17 June 2009

UFC 99: The Comeback on Setanta Sports - TV Review

It was a night of returns and great anticipation, with Caol Uno and Mirko Cro Cop making their Octagon returns, and Rich Franklin going up against Wanderlei Silva as the Ultimate Fighting Championship made their German debut at UFC 99: The Comeback, shown live on Setanta Sports here in Britain this past Saturday night, with Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan handling the commentary duties.

The broadcast began with action from the welterweight division, with Marcus Davis facing Dan Hardy. Hardy had made the classic mistake in the build-up of questioning Davis’ Irish credentials, something you just don’t do, no matter how many generations removed they are from their homeland. This was one of the fights I was really looking forward to, given Davis’ recent displays, and it didn’t disappoint. We got a see-saw battle, with both men putting in a great effort in all departments and looking good in the process. Davis did his best work on the ground, while Hardy, with an explosive elbow and a big knee that sent Davis down looking tremendous in the stand-up game. Another elbow, this time from the guard, bloodied Davis on the ground in the third round, and by that time the Irish Hand Grenade had a nasty swelling around his left eye as well. In the end Hardy’s extra work earned him the split decision, and although I was kind of rooting for Davis, Hardy was a worth winner. A great fight to start the show with.

The first big return of the evening followed, with Caol Uno taking on Spencer Fisher in the lightweight division. Although this won’t go down as one of the most explosive fights in mixed martial arts history, technically it was excellent. As the majority of the fans in attendance voiced their displeasure, Fisher and Uno put on tremendous example of mixed martial arts, and even though they more or less cancelled each other out for three rounds, it was still great to watch. Uno looked like he’d sealed the win in the final few seconds, but the unanimous decision went to Fisher. As good as this was, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a re-match in the future.

Then it was back up to welterweight, with Mike Swick and Ben Saunders. This one left me scratching my head a little, given Saunders’ tactics. For the majority of the fight Saunders seemed happy just to hold Swick in his guard, and the quick one’s words early on really said it all. Saunders had some good moments, but Swick was the aggressor throughout, and a right to the temple in the second round dropped Saunders. Swick followed up with a series of lefts on the ground, and with Saunders failing to respond the referee stepped in and gave Swick the TKO win. Not the best fight I’ve seen, but Swick did make the most of a bad situation.

Then it was time for the second big return of the evening, this time in the heavyweight division, with Mirko Cro Cop taking on Mustapha Al-Turk. This was the second fight of the night in which I wasn’t rooting for my fellow Brit. I’ve been a big Cro Cop fan ever since I saw him knock out Bob Sapp in K-1 about six years ago. Unlike many before him, Al-Turk didn’t look afraid when the fight began, but it didn’t take long for the Croatian to assert his control, using his punching power to good effect. However, an inadvertent poke to the eye, missed by the referee, was the beginning of the end for Al-Turk, as he turned his back on Cro Cop, who went in for the kill. Al-Turk had no answer to Cro Cop’s onslaught, and the referee soon stepped in to stop the assault, giving Cro Cop the TKO win. Welcome back Mirko.

The heavyweight action continued with Cain Velasquez facing Cheick Kongo. Both of these men went into this one with a lot of hype and a lot to prove. Although Kongo had impressed in his last few fights, this was another example of how, as far as his ground game goes, he has massive holes in his overall game. Kongo was able to rock Velasquez a few times while on his feet, but as soon as it went to the ground Velasquez dominated in almost every aspect. His ground and pound was relentless at times, although he just couldn’t finish Kongo off. So with the fight going the distance, it came as no surprise that Velasquez got the unanimous decision. As Joe Rogan said, the heavyweight division now has a new contender. I wouldn’t mind seeing Velasquez going up against Cro Cop in the future.

Main event time, with Rich “Ace” Franklin taking on “The Axe Murderer” Wanderlei Silva. This one was fought at catch weight, with both guys weighing in at 194. Out of all the fights on this card, this was the one I was looking forward to the most. This fight was everything it promised to be. With very little work on the ground, this was mainly fought upright, a back-and-forth encounter with both men rocking the other with kicks and combinations. Both men looked exhausted by the end of the second round, but that didn’t stop them in the third round. The fight was as compelling as it had been in the previous rounds, and it was getting hard to predict just who would win. The end was great, with Franklin delivering punches from the back while Silva delivered elbows from the front. The judge’s unanimous decision went in favour of Franklin. I won’t argue with that. Perhaps Silva’s weight cut, rumoured to be twelve pounds in the last day, went against him, but in the end it’s this kind of fight that makes you feel good about being an MMA fan.

In conclusion - the UFC’s German debut can only be termed a success. All six fights on the main card provided great entertainment, with the main event definitely worthy of it’s status. It was a great way to lead in to the big one next month. UFC 100 certainly has a lot to live up to.

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